Dear CMO:

I must have missed the memo. Can you tell me why everyone is asking their consumers to do their ads for them? Is this the new thing? Even Katie Couric is earnestly soliciting viewer input, sounding like a cross between one of those Sally Struthers infomercials and a Jerry Lewis telethon. Thank goodness her ratings are so healthy. Anyway.

I’m not sure what happened. Did we all just take one collective look at blogging, YouTube and social media and decide that not only are we “not in charge” anymore but that we’re also “not even in the conversation anymore”? When did we decide that ceding complete control to others was smart?

It’s not smart. It’s foolish. And we’ll look back on this in a year and wince. This will be the e-Nehru Jacket of the next evolution of whatever comes next.

We — as in, “we marketers, we brand champions, we people who are producing the products and services that people, people out there, beyond the footlights, are consuming” — are still in charge. We’re in charge of our values, our branding and our products.

“They” — our consumers and customers, hopefully engage in our values and branding to the extent that they feel compelled to create something with it, or of it, or from it. If we’re really lucky, our users immerse themselves in the world we’ve created and, like jazz or mash-ups, create new variations on the basic tracks of our branding. If we’re smart, we adapt to what our customers want.

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Key Takeaways:

> Marketers, you may relax. You’re still important. You are in control of your values, your branding, and your products. Listen, provide the means for your users to deeply engage, and then adapt. All is well.

> Consumers are very good art critics and lousy artists. They will react to what you give them and will provide you with great insight, if you’re listening. They rarely, if ever, come out of the blue with something they want. Because they just don’t know what they want more often than not. So help them along. That’s your job.

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This is why permission-based advertising is doomed to fail. Why? Because we just don’t know what we want. We can tell you what we want right now, plus or minus about 30%, but we’re usually wrong.

I’ve said this before and it bears repeating: customers are better art critics than artists. They react to what they’re given very accurately. They don’t do a good job of telling us exactly what they want out of thin air.


Copyright (c) 2007 Stephen Denny